Heidi Russo longs to know her son, but she has to give him his space. She wants to protect him, but she has to let him live on his terms, as he sees fit.
So Russo agitates within, hoping that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- the boy she gave up for adoption, with considerable consternation, 25 years ago -- someday can embrace her as a member of the only family he has ever known.
"If and when he changes his mind -- he may never change his mind -- I'll watch him from home,'' says Russo, 44, a registered nurse living in the Denver area. "When I have a chance to get out to a game, I'll watch him from there.''
She is uncomfortable with her burgeoning exposure, with sharing the details of a very personal story that became national news Tuesday shortly after being reported by Yahoo. She comes across as a woman who, having grown more resolute with maturity, is trying to cope with a reality that leaves her feeling incomplete.
During a brief conversation Tuesday, her inner conflict is evident in the pauses and sighs as she attempts to balance her maternal wish with the knowledge it might never be fulfilled.
"It's ... um, obviously a strange experience,'' she says of the position she is in as the biological parent of a "celebrity'' she doesn't really know.
"But I've been interested in getting a chance to see Colin, to be with him, since the day he was given up for adoption,'' she says.
Russo has made numerous
"I have to respect his wishes,'' Russo says.
She's living with the choice she made as a pregnant 18-year-old in Wisconsin carrying a biracial child fathered by a man to whom she was not married.
"It was an excruciatingly painful time,'' she says of the decision to seek parents for Colin and, upon settling on the Kaepernicks, to let him leave her life.
She's hoping now for a relationship with Colin, or least regular correspondence, and wondering if perhaps that might somehow fill that empty space in her heart.
Yet she prudently keeps her distance, cheering from afar, as Colin prefers for now.
Russo is greatly comforted by the knowledge that Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, who raised Colin from infancy, have been cordial and assuaged by her observation of a well-adjusted young man who has grown into an NFL quarterback with star potential.
That's something she conveyed when she met with the Kaepernicks three months ago in Denver, where the 49ers were playing the Broncos in a preseason game.
Again, understand that Russo's desire for a relationship does not come across as a case of a negligent mom materializing in hopes of hitching a ride on the fame train. She has followed him from a distance for years. She was emotionally alongside well before Colin rocketed to fame 17 days ago with a spectacular performance in his first start on the massive national stage that is "Monday Night Football."
When Colin asked about his father, Russo reached out. She got nowhere. No response. She has moved on for now, perhaps for good if her sharp comment is any indication.
"I never got a response,'' she says flatly. "He has denied him for 25 years, so nothing has changed.''
So this is, for Russo, a deeply personal crusade of sorts.
She's close enough to be irritated by the furor in the wake of a Sporting News column last week implying Colin's copious tattoos represent a criminal lifestyle or a prison mentality -- when there is no public evidence of any such behavior.
"It's upsetting to see negative comments written and said about a kid who is doing amazing things,'' she says. "You don't judge a kid by his tattoos. It's just somebody wanting to say something negative about someone who is doing positive things.''
Russo believes she did the right thing at the time, giving up Colin when she did. But she never stopped thinking about him. Having given birth to another child -- he's now 8 years old -- she wonders how things might have turned out had she been more prepared in 1987.
"I made my call on Colin a long time ago,'' she says. "I have to live with that.
"It's his life. The Kaepernicks have been great. They have given Colin everything he could want and more. They were able to raise him in the same kind of athletic environment that I grew up in. I wanted him to have a great life, and that's what he has.''
Russo is simultaneously content and unfulfilled. She accepts less but wants more. She is a fan who follows Kaepernick and a mother who loves her biological son.
That will have to be enough until the day, should it come, Colin decides otherwise.